The CHEER Program
Organization profile

CHEER offers supportive services to senior citizens who are minimally disabled and wish to retain as much independence as possible. Trained CHEER aides visit clients weekly to help with tasks such as shopping, errands, and laundry. Often, having this type of assistance is all that is needed to allow an elderly person the ability to continue to remain in his or her own home.

CHEER
Visiting Homemaker Home Health Aide Service of Bergen County, Inc.
298 Union Street
Hackensack, NJ 07666

(201) 488-0041
www.vhsbc.com/shopping.html

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Michele Ogden

For most of us, grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning the house are just items on a never-ending to-do list. But for Michele Ogden, these tasks can mean the difference between keeping a senior citizen independent in their own home and having to be put into a home.

Ogden is the Program Coordinator for CHEER, an extension of the Visiting Homemaker Home Health Aide Service in Hackensack, New Jersey. Since the 1960s, CHEER has provided homebound seniors  with in-home services such as grocery shopping and light housekeeping. Essential for both practical and personal reasons, the preparation of grocery lists keeps seniors mentally focused while the consistent companionship gives them a regular visit to look forward to.

After Ogden joined CHEER in 2002, she saw its waiting list take on gigantic proportions. By 2006, with a growing amount of seniors in need but no increase in funding for paid workers, Ogden started the volunteer component of the CHEER program, with phenomenal results.

With the help of volunteers in 2007, CHEER increased the service hours provided to clients by almost 13%. In 2008, the program provided 15% more service hours, and in 2009 CHEER expects to increase our service hours by 25%.

VolunteerMatch has been a fundamental part of this process. Odgen says that the service has helped her connect with "students, professionals, blue collar workers, every age group, every ethnic group, disabled, and every economic level." And while each volunteer's background varies, they all bring a shared enthusiasm to the home visits. "Volunteers come to us with a true sense of what they want to do and how they want to help," Ogden adds.

In addition to the positive impact on seniors, Ogden enjoys seeing the personal process volunteers go through. "I love watching the element of surprise come to the volunteer," Ogden says. "Each volunteer thinks that he/she is out for the good of others, but the real value is the sense of pride and well-being for the volunteer."

But Michele's vision for the CHEER program doesn't stop there. In the near future, CHEER will partner with a nonprofit that works with autistic adults. The goal is to reach out to those adults who have an interest in volunteering and are able to help with the shopping services provided by CHEER. "If we can teach autistic individuals how to shop, so they can develop independence while also volunteering to help homebound seniors, we will have a major impact on the lives of two individuals," she says.

The first of these collaborations is already underway. Because people with autism have difficulty reading but are able to recognize and associate with visual materials, seniors can give the labels from the items they use to volunteers, who can then identify them in the store. This exchange provides a sense of pride and fulfillment on all sides. "The senior is thrilled to be able to contribute to the volunteer's ability to learn how to shop," Michele says. "In fact, he or she is now serving as a 'volunteer' within the project."

Ogden calls her work at CHEER "a dream job," and despite her enormous successes so far, her own to-do list just keeps on growing. Luckily, this means continued independence, empowerment, and enjoyment for seniors.

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